Michael Twomey

Retired Dana Professor, English


For some recent lectures and publications, see the Intro page.  Here are more of my favorite projects:

My current interest is eco-criticism, which considers the role and representation of the environment in literature.  For more on this, see the section on Environmental Humanities .

I also am fascinated by early English pronunciation.  You can hear me reading passages from Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur in a reconstructed 15th-century London pronunciation on the CD "Malory Aloud: A Dramatic Reading of Excerpts from Le Morte Darthur," produced by the Chaucer Studio.  My essay about these readings, “The Voice of Aurality in the Morte Darthur,” won the James Randall Leader Prize for Outstanding Essay in Arthuriana, 2003, from the International Arthurian Society, North American Branch.

I am part of an international team based in Germany and Belgium that is producing an edition of the Latin version of the medieval encyclopedia De proprietatibus rerum by Bartholomaeus Anglicus, which is often referred to as "Shakespeare's encyclopedia" because of the many passages in Shakespeare that draw from it. For the first volume, published in 2007, I contributed an edition of Book I, concerning God and the names of God.  I have also completed my edition of Book XIV, on the earth and its properties.  My research on Book XIV was partly supported in 2003 by an Emerson Foundation Grant in which I was assisted by Jason Daniel, then an IC senior, who later received a Ph.D. from Florida International University.

While teaching at IC, I became interested in the modern use of the Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) letter "thorn," which looks like this: < þ>.  In the later Middle Ages, this letter had an "open" form that resembled the letter <y>.  This letter was used in documents and headstones until about 1800, after which many people in the 19th and 20th centuries mistakenly believed that it was a <y>, and they started to use it in the names of "old-timey" stores and pubs, as in "ye olde soda shoppe."  My research on this project was partly supported in 2008 by Humanities Initiative and Emerson Foundation grants in which I was assisted by Peter Messmer, IC class of 2009.  I published "Ye Olde English Ye: A Short Biography of Anglo-Saxon Thorn," in Fact and Fiction from the Middle Ages to Modern Times: Essays Presented to Hans Sauer on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, ed. Renate Bauer and Ulrike Krischke (Münchener Universitätsschriften 37)(Frankfurt am Main: Lang, 2011), pp. 177-95.  A sequel about the use of thorn in America is in the works.

In a manuscript in the British Library, London, I found a previously unknown letter written in the voice of Morgan le Fay, Arthurian legend's fairy queen, and I announced that discovery in "'Morgan le Fay, Empress of the Wilderness': A Newly Recovered Arthurian Text in London, BL Royal 12.c.ix," Arthurian Literature 25 (2008), 67-91.  (This volume is reviewed in Times Literary Supplement [London], no. 5509, October 31, 2008, pp. 26-7.)  "Literary Scholars as Sleuths," IC View 26.4 (2008), tells the story of this discovery along with that of one of my former students, Steve Hartman (English '87--now a professor in Sweden), who, while doing research in the National Library of Sweden, found a letter by Henry David Thoreau that was believed to be lost. 

The newest edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in The Works of the Gawain Poet, ed. Ad Putter and Myra Stokes of the University of Bristol, UK (London: Penguin, 2014), adopts my reading of the manuscript's version of the name of Morgan le Fay in lines 2446 and 2452:  "Morgue la faye."  Moreover, the editors' note to these lines gives a lengthy summary of my argument for this reading, which appeared in the journal Anglia 117 (1999), 542-57.  

British Library, London

The British Library houses many of England's most precious and important medieval manuscripts.  Among them is the only known manuscript (ca. 1400) of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I love to teach and about which I have published several articles, including one about the form of the name of Morgan le Fay, King Arthur's half-sister, in Sir Gawain.  Here, too, is the home of the early 14th-century manuscript in which I discovered a previously unknown medieval text that purports to be a letter from Morgan le Fay to a knight in her court.  The British Library also owns the only known manuscript of Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur (ca. 1470), about which I have also published.  The statue in the photo is Sir Eduardo Paolozzi's sculpture "Newton," based on William Blake's famous image of Isaac Newton as the "ancient of days."